Ch. 2: Avon’ri (The ‘Burbs)

Chapter 2: Avon’ri

A month has passed since the party infiltrated the university library and had a face-to-face talk with Professor Oort-Ba.  However, they have not forgotten their mission in the outside world, and have been secretly preparing themselves for the most dangerous adventure they’ve ever set out upon–a mission to save their dying race.

DM’s Note: Your characters are now level 2.  You can choose one Flaw and one Trait from the book of Unearthed Arcana, in keeping with how you roleplayed your character in the previous session.  You are also able to obtain more equipment, to a limit of a character’s expected wealth at level 2, or 900 white pearls (the equivalent of gold).

Session Record (November 11, 2012) 

DAY 1:

Damash, Tialka, and Vhankor had thought on much during the past few weeks, including the complete lack of humanoid traffic with the world outside the Cradle.  Those friends of theirs who had already graduated always seemed to find jobs within the Cradle community, rearing livestock, growing food, or bringing up the next generation.  Those who were known for a fact to have left the Cradle had never been heard from again.  Such questions secretly only inspired and delighted the group, however.

It was two days before our heroes’ scheduled Graduation ceremonies when they discovered notes addressed to them, lying in each of their rooms.

Come to the Library.  Quickly.  –Prof. O.
P.S. Pack your things.

Damash and Tialka immediately threw what traveling possessions they’d prepared into sacks and looked for Vhankor.  Unfortunately, he was nowhere to be found.  Peers claimed they’d seem sprinting outside with another one of his famed contraptions and claiming to have hit upon his next brilliant idea.  Shaking their heads to themselves, and hoping that he was still in one piece, Damash and Tialka set off for the Library.

Glancing nervously about as the two neared, Professor Oort-Ba quickly ushered them into a more private room of the Library.  A group of junior students had just been discovered missing, he explained, for as long as three nights.  Apparently, they had been overheard making drunken dares at a pub to spend a night camping outside the Cradle. Unfortunately, they could now not be located, and Professor Kee-Blup was having a fit. Tired of losing friends and students to whatever awaited outside, Kee-Blup was locking down the Cradle and making sure all were accounted for, both during Graduation and for the foreseeable future.

“You must leave today, or not at all,” Oort-Ba declared.  “After tonight, it will be exponentially more difficult to slip away.”

Oort-Ba noted that Vhankor had been unable to attend and promised to hunt him down. He had seen the three of them acting as a group for years, and knew the importance of not splitting a successful party.

Although Prof. Oort-Ba would be forced to remain in the Cradle, tending to administration and being a counterpoint to Prof. Kee-Blup’s persona, he would be remiss not to dismiss them without preparing them in any manner he could.  After making certain they were stocked on food and supplies, he rolled out a treasure he had acquired from the Library archives:

Map of Yaneth’lei (click to enlarge)

Prof. Oort-Ba warned that this map was nearly 80 years old and might no longer be entirely accurate.  Still, it was their best starting point for making their way around greater Yaneth’lei and finding direction for their quest.

Additionally, Prof. Oort-Ba gifted the party with one of a set of Sending Stones.  This would allow two-way communication, once a day, limited to 25 words or less per message. Although he could not personally accompany the party, the librarian wished to give them every advantage he could, and he promised to aid them with the help of the collected knowledge of his library.  He only cautioned that his answers might not be timely, should the party find themselves in dire straits.

Sending stones

Once certain they were as prepared as they were ever going to get, Damash and Tialka moved quietly to the northern area of the Cradle, where the current entered their home. Now a few years stronger and wiser, they managed to brave the turbulence and exit their home of 22 years (although Tialka needed a helping hand from her squid).  Soon they were in the passage beyond, and in territory they’d never before witnessed.

A closer view of The Cradle and Avon’ri (click to enlarge)

Earth current lanterns were spaced evenly along the wall of King’s Tribute, revealing the source of the background green light they had known their entire lives.  The speed of the water itself, although initially mild, soon grew much more rapid and turbulent.  In addition, the first deviation from their map became apparent–a tunnel collapse had narrowed a portion of the current to a small opening, forcing them to navigate a dangerous rocky route. Tialka made it to the end without injury, but Damash hit his head forcibly against a boulder.

Their first view of Avon’ri was spectacular, if a bit desolate.  The kelp beds marked on their map had overgrown to sizable proportions, now reaching to and growing along the ceiling. Habitations were cut directly out of the rock faces (unlike the assembled buildings of the Warrens or the free-standing structures of the University) and stretched all the way from the floor to the top of the cavern.  Turbulence from the current they had just left, however, kicked up nearby silt and made it difficult to see more than 200 feet ahead.

However, there were no humanoid figures or sounds of civilized life.  All buildings lay open and apparently gutted, leading the two to wonder what had happened to the citizens.

Devoid of any inhabitants, Avon’ri was still very much alive.  Sharks glided their way lazily in the open water, crabs snapped at those foolish enough to reach into the kelp strands, and a long strong of mysterious lights undulated in the distance.  Although too far away to see clearly in the disturbed water, it gave the group the impression of a long, sinuous creature. 

A distant, mysterious string of lights

The groups’ reverie was soon broken when they heard frantic shrieking from a nearby home.  Rushing to the dwelling, they saw that the door and windows of one house had been hastily boarded up with debris and broken furniture.  A crab the size of a man was reaching long arms through whatever openings it could find, while someone screamed in terror from within.

 This crab senses tasties nearby.

Damash, Tialka, and squid hastily set about to free the trapped individual.  Working together, they were able to reduce the crab to instant sushi and gathered for a snack to become acquainted.

“I was swimming in my own poop,” were Alana‘s first words of introduction, given as she clutched a crowbar in white-knuckled hands.  Initially following a group of inebriated friends out for a night of rowdy cavorting beyond the Cradle, the boyish girl soon found herself separated and hunted by the creatures now living in abandoned Avon’ri.  Alana herself had spent the last two days holed up in the same building she had been found in, cold, hungry, and scared to death.  She had seen nothing of her companions and didn’t even know if they were still alive.

Before they left, Alana made sure to show the group an unsettling skeleton she’d found in the back room of that house.  The skeleton was wearing a cheap jade necklace, probably making her a lady.  However, she had been twisted and contorted backwards so far that her spine had snapped in two.  All four limbs were disjointed.  Also, unsettlingly, her face was missing.

Although she was not a doctor, Alana noticed that many of the thin bones along the sides of the face were still intact, ruling out blunt trauma.  Whoever had done this had done it with almost surgical precision.

The group set about searching more houses, either for Alana’s lost friends or for clues on the mystery of Avon’ri.  Most were empty and abandoned, with only debris or animals as their new inhabitants.  Very few had any sort of serviceable equipment, and Alana was lucky to find a suit of sharkskin armor and a dagger to complement her otherwise empty-handed person.

As they made their way up the side of the cavern walls, working their way towards the more privileged of the citizens, a dwelling nearly hidden in an alcove caught Tialka’s eye.  Its door and window had been completely boarded up by stones packed tightly together, and Tialka might not even have noticed it if she were not actively looking for such things.  However, the first few stones removed from the crude fortifications revealed colored water reeking of death and decay; and the group decided to let the current clear out the interior before they went any further.

The three were attacked by a vicious moray eel in the next dwelling they tried to enter.  Darting from a window behind the group, the eel gave Alana such a mighty bite that she had only the strength to draw a musical triangle from her sack-of-tawdry-baubles and ring it loudly before collapsing.  However, she was successful in distracting the eel from making a meal of anyone else, and the others quickly beat it to a pulp.

Surprise!  Were you surprised?

With everyone in the party bruised, bleeding, or being nursed back into consciousness, a halt was soon called and the eel’s house boarded up against any future passerbys. Fortunately, nothing was brave enough to attack whatever had killed a dire moray eel, and the party was undisturbed that night.  Professor Oort-Ba was mindful to send a quick query as to their health, and they described the events of the day with as much detail as 25 words would allow.  The three were left to their own thoughts during each of their shifts, watching the kelp fields sway lazily in the currents and idly pondering the distant string of moving lights.

DAY 2:

The next morning, the three were relieved to find that the foul water had cleared from the boarded-up building, and they went inside.  What greeted them was a sad sight: twenty-three different humanoids, of various ages and genders, lay partially decomposed on and around each other.  Some lay against each other, as if in giving comfort.  Others seemed to have died in their sleep.  What were consistent were the few belongings of personal significance each held (jewelry, children’s toys, the like) and the partial state of decay.

Before they continued on towards the center of town, Alana found one moldy letter, clutched in a dead hand under a young lady’s body:

My dearest Love,

It seems this letter shall be my last. I know that neither you nor anyone else shall ever find these words, yet there is a small comfort in committing them to sheet. They help ease the last troubled thoughts of a doomed maiden.

I write this letter with the aid of the small glowing mushroom in the necklace you gave me, though its light is already dim. All around me, there are soft cries and wailing in the darkness. It is almost enough to drown out the screams of agony still audible through the thick rock. Still, truth be told, even I am unsure if I truly hear those distant pleas for mercy, or if they are only sounds still echoing in my ears.

I wish with every fiber of my body that I could tell you now just how brave you were, distracting those creatures and giving me just enough time to escape. I pray that you would forgive your silly girl, wasting your heroic sacrifice and finding herself just as helplessly trapped as the rest. Know now that I go to my death with my head held high, your face in my mind to the very last. If I had one wish to grant you now, it would be that you would meet your end quickly and without pain. And that Tabor, if he has truly not forsaken us, would see how very brave you were.

My light fades now, or perhaps it is only my vision. The water in here has grown thick and stale. The crying too has faded, now replaced with a ringing in my ears.

I see now my time is short. Godspeed you quickly on your way, dearest Renard, and know that your love Lissa waits for you in the arms of Tabo–

The last paragraph of the letter had been written with increasingly weak strokes, until it trailed off at the end.

The center of Avon’ri was a grisly sight.  Three crafted metal poles had been pounded into the ground in the middle of the town square, with sharp ends pointing upwards.  Stacked on each were collections of faceless skulls and pelvic bones, as if tossed or placed over the tops of each pole.  Though covered in eighty years’ worth of coral deposits and plant life, the scene was unsettling nonetheless.  The three did not know how or why the bones had been arranged thus, and were not too keen to find out.

Their apprehensions were only rewarded when Damash took a look inside a nearby house.  In the back room, driven into the wall, were four pitons normally used for anchoring heavy objects.  In this case, two near eye level affixed wrist and forearm bones to the wall, and two near the floor held ankle bones fast.  Scattered on the floor nearby were the remaining parts to a full skeleton–also missing its face.

“Whoever did this,” remarked Alana, “was no mindless beast.  These people were carefully and meticulously slaughtered.”

The three adventurers were slowly making their way down an alley between facing rows of stone houses when Tialka’s pet squid abruptly disappeared in a blur of claws and motion.

This, but to the squid.

The three immediately ran in to save their animal friend, coming face-to-face with a large mantis shrimp, an expert of violent surprise.  Neither a mantis nor a shrimp, this crustacean was a behemoth specimen–ten feet from tail to eyestalk.

The mantis shrimp revealed.

Currently, the shrimp and the squid were pitched in heavy battle.  Each a master of grappling combat, they rolled over and over in the room, trading control almost faster than one could follow.

As they moved in, Tialka cast out a call to any animal friends who would heed her cry.  Within moments, a goliath grouper had been magically transported to aid them in their fight!

A wild grouper suddenly appears!

Suddenly backed into a corner and outnumbered, the mantis shrimp fought with savage efficiency.  It was only through sheer luck that its next attack fell upon Tialka’s newest grouper friend, literally shredding it to strips in seconds.  Fortunately, the group was able to fell the creature before it could strike again, and their squid companion was safe once more.

Further down the same row of connected buildings, the group found a room painted in bright pastels.  Though heavily flaked and peeling, bright yellows, greens, and blues greeted their eyes, as did a number of small, misshapen skeletons on the floor.  A closer look was enough to tell Tialka that these were humanoid infants, and the room in which they stood had likely been a nursery.  Sadly, these little ones had also suffered whatever fate had befallen Avon’ri.

An unfamiliar nursery rhyme was painted across the ceiling:

The nursery rhyme

Even as a riddle, the lines were confusing; and the three were left wondering just what a “shoal” or a “sky” were supposed to be.  Alana had a few writing implements in her sack, and she took to recording the enigmatic words on a scroll of pressed kelp.

By this point, Damash, Tialka, and Alana were nearing the southern-most tip of Avon’ri.  Throughout all of this city quarter, the story remained the same–abandoned houses, faceless skeletons, torture, death, and fear.  Though separated by nearly three generations, the terror was still nearly palpable.

All that now lay between the party and greater Yaneth’lei was a narrow passageway between two rock faces…and a familiar string of glowing lights, lazily circling fifty feet above them.  Attempting to sneak past unnoticed, the three adventurers were not successful, and the string of lights turned–and broke up into a swarm of smaller fish with glowing eye spots.

The true form of the string of lights

Damash, Tialka, and Alana made best speed for the open water waiting outside Avon’ri, but the fish were significantly faster.  Tialka’s squid blew a cloud of ink into the fishes’ faces, but this seemed to hinder them none; they moved with a preternatural instinct towards their prey, taking large bites out of both the squid and Tialka.  Even their presence was disconcerting, and Tialka had to fight not to vomit when brushed on all sides by their tiny twitching fins.

One of the Swarm’s members, once incapacitated

Alana swung with the knife she had found earlier, but the school of fish danced easily out of the way.  Even when she was able to down a single fish, two more took its place.  Alana and Damash both tore open packs of rations and scattered them in the water, but the fish were only temporarily distracted.

Things were looking grim indeed until Tialka remembered a valuable spell she had prepared earlier that day–Hide from Animals.  Only able to cast it on two people, she nevertheless managed to completely shield both herself and Alana from the minds of the swarm.  The fish moved over and around the two without touching them, proving the effectiveness of the spell.

Now bent only on the demise of poor Damash, the fish did not sense Tialka and Alana preparing a careful counterattack with magically-enhanced weapons until it was too late.  Soon, the three stood triumphantly in the midst of swirling fins and twitching fish parts.

The three would rest there that night in an alcove they discovered in the rock face.  Today, they had braved the dangers of an abandoned and city district overgrown with vicious animal life.  What would the morrow bring?

Out into greater Yaneth’lei…and then?

Appendix: Aquatic Swarms (Schools)

A potent enemy even in terrestrial encounters, Swarms (or schools) of creatures are particularly formidable underwater.  Here is a list of their traits and immunities, after accounting for aquatic effects:

  •  A swarm has no clear front or back and no discernable anatomy, so it is not subject to critical hits or flanking.
  • A swarm made up of Tiny creatures takes half damage from slashing and piercing weapons (as the above Swarm was).
  • A swarm underwater also takes half damage from bludgeoning weapons, as it is in an aquatic environment.  This translates to half damage from all physical weapons when underwater!
  • They cannot be trippedgrappled, or bull rushed (though they cannot grapple in return).
  • A swarm is immune to any spell or effect that targets a specific number of creatures (including single-target spells such as disintegrate), with the exception of mind-affecting effects (charms, compulsions, phantasms, patterns, and morale effects) if the swarm has an Intelligence score and a hive mind.
  • Creatures with the swarm subtype don’t make standard melee attacks. Instead, they deal automatic damage to any creature whose space they occupy at the end of their move, with no attack roll needed.
  • Swarm attacks are not subject to a miss chance for concealment or cover.
  • Swarms distract foes whose squares they occupy (Fortitude save or be Nauseated for one round, unable to do anything but move).
  • Last but not least, one of the best weapons for fighting swarms, fire, is incredibly difficult to conjure underwater.

This has been your public safety announcement!  Keep an eye out for any Swarms!

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